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The Modern Maintenance Manager: How to Get the Most out of Your Work Team!

Why don't we start from the beginning and say that you probably have a basic understanding of your job. You have been promoted to where you are because you have, at least, a basic understanding of technical issues, and a basic understanding of the equipment that your team needs to manage.

So, what's left? What are the skills of the modern maintenance manager? Do you need to have all of the answers to all of the problems? Nope, not even slightly. The role of the modern maintenance manager is to find, develop, and deploy talent. Full stop.

This is the forgotten aspect of maintenance management. Although we all get pretty worked up about equipment, reliability, efficiency, etc, etc, at the basis of everything we do is the management of people!

People have the skills, people have the knowledge, and people have thought about how to make things better! I cannot count the amount of problems I have seen solved in my consulting career just by creating the environment where people could talk to one another! In fact one of the fundamental aspects of RCM is focused on generating just this opportunity. (Defining the functions)

The maintenance manager needs to set policy, facilitate the determination of targets and goals, and to help them get on with it! This is not as easy as it sounds, and is a thousand miles away from the command and control type of thinking that we all grew up with in our early careers.

Your role as the maintenance manager is no longer that of the senior supervisor, but rather one of the workers assistant. Ask them, continually, "What can I do to help you get things done?" And then do it. Do they need training? Get them training! Do they need specialized tools? Make them available! Do they need better relations with operations? Sort it out!

Not only do we assume that you are pretty good at the basics of your role, but they are too. My experience has been, in over twenty countries now, that people generally know what is required of them, know basically how to do it, and are frustrated because of the barriers that they have in their way.

Want a motivated workforce? Ask yourself this, what level of autonomy do you have in your role today? Not much? Feels pretty constraining doesn't it. You could say it is pretty de-motivating. I have full control over my diary, over my work from day-to-day and over the techniques and practices that I use in my work. And I have never been more motivated in my life!

In fact, every time that I have been in what I consider to be a good role it is because I have had the limits clearly defined, the objectives clearly defined, and then all barriers I have identified removed. This is what you need to be focusing on with your people.

Skill levels are reducing, less people are choosing to become maintainers these days than when we all started in the game, not only that but the equipment is becoming more complex. So we have the fun situation of wanting more and more from less and less. So you better believe that finding, developing and deploying talent is one of your key issues today!

And what's the standard response? But we don't have the money! That's a cop out I would suggest. You have experienced people; get them to mentor the less experienced people. You have difficult tasks that need to be done, get your team to work on these and use them as a means of on-the-job training. Buy books, find articles, get people from higher up in the organization to speak to them, facilitate meetings with inventory managers, operations managers, HR managers, get to the bottom of what is holding them back and eliminate it!

Your number one question needs to change from "how are we going?" to "how can I help you?"

But what if they don't? They will! We are not in the industrial age anymore; we are in the information age. Your techniques for managing people need to change from "just do it" to "tell me what's stopping you and I will deal with it!"

Your feedback comes form your performance measurement and management programs in place. If you have defined your goals correctly, and defined the skills and capabilities required to make those goals a fact, then you will be able to put measures in place to be able to see that things are moving forward.

Setting a goal!

So how do I go about this? It is very easy to tell me what I should be doing, but what about the real world techniques? Good point! If you want to set a goal for somebody, then you need to do it in a manner that is designed to get the most out of them.

So first, be prepared. What are your departments' goals? Are they tied into the corporate goals? What level of priority does the company place on these? If you have done the strategy creation right, then they are all high priority goals, and this is understood throughout the company. What are the activities, skills and capabilities that your people need to have, or be doing, to achieve these goals? This is the basis for your task assignment.

When you then assign the task go through the following steps:

Who is best placed to carry out this task? Not the best person you have, they are probably busy. But who could do this if they pushed themselves a little bit? Sounds like a great learning opportunity for them doesn't it?

Tell them what you want, quantifiably! Follow the following sequence:

  • Define the task, its importance, and why they have been selected. Be specific, be detailed, and be confident about their capability to carry it out.
  • Define the level of quality that you expect from the finished task. Think about this in terms of the technical integrity, the results you expect, the fact that this is to be a permanent solution etc.
  • Define the resources that the person will have available to them. How are they expected to get this carried out? Can they use others within the team, within the company, what about information sources, what about vendor involvement? A whole range of issues that need to be covered here. If you have been able to organize for them to undergo training then let them know.
  • Define the timeframe that you need this to be done in. Be specific, detail the consequences to the company of not getting this done, and make sure that there is a firm commitment to doing this.
  • Then let them go to it. Your role now is to be the workers assistant. When you check progress, don't ask how it's going. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them achieve it. What are the roadblocks, the barriers, the difficulties, and then get it done. It may be that while attempting to do the task it has suddenly appeared to be more complex than originally thought. Help them work through this.
  • Make sure that everybody in your company is made aware of the good efforts carried out during this task, its impact on corporate objectives, and the quality that it was completed to.

Why is this going to make your people more motivated? Seems like you are giving them more work to do doesn't it? There are a few psychological dynamics going on here, all of which need to be considered.

  1. They have been chosen for something outside of the normal. This will do wonders for their self-esteem, for their confidence and for their own personal belief that their skills are being recognized. (As they should be after all).
  2. You are giving them very clear guidelines for what you want done, when, how important it is, and what they have available to do it. This shows that you are fully supporting them, be prepared to go into battle for them if required with senior management to secure more resources. Your strategy is linked to corporate goals so this should be easier than if you were just in the typical "budget and spend" mode of maintenance management.
  3. You are working with them as a partner, as the landmine-clearer if you like, helping them to get this done. This is a powerful method for changing the way that people think, and mainly because you have changed the way that you approach things. By asking them how you can help them, you are recognizing that they may have troubles, they are doing their best, and that they are working on something that deserves some of your attention. 
  4. When you make everybody else aware of what they are doing you give them notoriety, recognition of their efforts, and the opportunity to be seen as an important part of the business. Do this with all or most of your employees; the change in their working habits will change the way you manage forever!

Summary

Finding, developing, and deploying talent, as the workers assistant, is a continuous process. Just as your bosses role is to develop the talent that you have and need.

The final thing that you need to be aware of as you go down this path is that good people move on. There will always be work for the best people. And your role is to find and develop them, and then let them follow their career path. Frustrating, annoying, rewarding and immensely satisfying. This is what I believe is at the core of the role of the modern maintenance manager in the 21st century.

Article submitted by: Daryl Mather, Author of The Maintenance Scorecard

Daryl Mather

Daryl Mather has assisted companies to increase the profitability of their physical asset base in over 23 countries including the USA, European, Asian and Latin American countries and is the author of several books on the subject, including "The Maintenance Scorecard". He works with Knowledge Based Management (KBM), a joint venture between Lloyds register and WSP Group, and can be reached on daryl.mather@kbai.net, or mobile 07966069970

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